The voice of Amanda


Darren Wilson should be on trial

I sat in my car, patiently waiting to hear the announcement whether Darren Wilson would go to trial for the murder of Michael Brown. My body almost vibrated in anticipation, hoping that there was some chance of justice prevailing in what seemed a pretty clear case of excessive force. As the steady voice droned through my speakers, his words sunk in and I realized we hadn’t turned that corner. It is still okay for cops to gun down unarmed people of color.

Darren Wilson clearly has no remorse for what he has done, evidenced by his television appearance. Even in self defense, shouldn’t you have a modicum of feeling for ending someone else’s life? He also has the benefit of time to rehearse how he tells his story, to fine tune his wording to insist he felt imminent threat on his own life. That’s the trouble. All we have are his verbal statements, but we cannot get into his state of mind. We have to take his word on it. And if he was afraid, was his fear racially motivated? Did his own bigoted ideas influence his decision to act with his weapon? That’s not justification.

As for Wilson’s assertion that Brown beat him severely, evidence photos showed he had no bruising and just a slight pinkness to his cheek. He also said Brown tried to grab his gun. If Brown was so physically assuming and powerful, why didn’t he get the gun?

So what about the forensics. Michael Brown had one close wound in his hand. Everything else was from a distance because he was running away. How is it okay to shoot him to death when he is running away? Where is your imminent fear for your own life in that moment, Darren? Wilson claims Brown turned and started charging him, claiming Brown looked like a “demon.” Brown’s family insists that is ludicrous. Who would charge at the person shooting?

I know not to expect a guilty verdict, but I was hoping to at least see this case go to trial. There must be some consequence of killing an unarmed teenager. If Wilson was afraid of an unarmed 18 year old, maybe he never should have been a cop in the first place. If his natural reaction was to shoot, maybe he never should have been a cop in the first place. Police are meant to serve and protect their communities, not gun down its residents. With all the evidence that has come out, the only thing that seems to make it justified is Wilson saying he feared for his life. How do we disprove his claim? The forensics don’t paint a picture of imminent threat, but the grand jury felt inclined to believe the four hours of testimony from Wilson. Too bad dead boys don’t talk.

There are too many loose ends for this to be considered a closed book. My hope is that a civil case will take the money given to Wilson by the KKK. He is not the person who lost something that day and he certainly doesn’t deserve to profit from his deadly action.


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My personal problems with guns

I haven’t written much lately, mainly because I’ve had a lot on my mind to sort through. Gun violence happens in the news every day, but this last month brought it knocking on my door twice.

A family friend named Colleen was murdered last month in her own home as she opened the door to a neighbor who intentionally sought to kill her because he detected “evil” coming off her. This man had been arrested in 2009 for attacking a female neighbor he thought was a molesting vampire. After shooting Colleen twice, he went on the news, publicly calling the murderer an animal and described Colleen as a good person who was a friend and neighbor for 20 years. News reports are saying this man is a schizophrenic who decided not to take his meds anymore. He lived with his mother. He had previously been institutionalized. His deceased father was an arms dealer, which is most likely how he obtained his cache of weapons.

Obviously this story has several moments that all added up to the tragic death of Colleen, a dedicated single mother to a highly autistic 15 year old son. This man clearly had a mental disorder that was not being addressed. His mother did nothing to help him, though his prior behavior indicated he was unstable. His mother also allowed him access to weapons, which means she should additionally be held responsible for the death of Colleen. People say we need to address how mental health his handled in our country. This is true, but something everyone can do right now to cut gun deaths is making sure weapons are locked away in the home, out of reach from children and unstable family members. Ammunition can also be stored separately from the weapon.

In our gun culture, some folks look at rights and lose sight of common sense. Yes, one can own a gun, but that comes with the responsibility of the lives put at risk if that gun is not stored and handled properly. The second amendment isn’t a free pass.

This murder made me see the dark side of the gun debate in people I know. I posted an article with the acknowledgment that gun culture is fucked up in our society. I got some responses that had nothing to do with saying “sorry for your loss” or “I understand this must be difficult, but…” I get that this is my opinion and others don’t see why I am in favor of expanded background checks, mandated safety training, harsher penalties for unlawful sales, etc, but at least have the decency to recognize that somebody I care about was shot to death before launching into a pro-second amendment rant. Humanity comes before gun rights, and if that isn’t clear, maybe someone in the conversation has lost their shit and shouldn’t own a gun anyway.

The second news-worthy gun attack happened at Santa Monica College, close to where I live. An unstable man killed his family, then went on a shooting spree through the streets of Los Angeles. This happened blocks from where I work. He shot up a bus that I ride. Someone I know was in the library when he came in shooting.

Did you hear about this story? Maybe you did, maybe you didn’t. Maybe you already forgot about it. These tragedies shouldn’t be so common place that a new gun spree out-shadows the one that happened a few weeks ago. This is further proof that our society needs to make an effort to change.

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I wish we could fix the world

I wish the world could be safe for everyone. Our reality has lately consisted of mass shootings in malls, grocery stores, temples, movie theaters and schools, leaving the impression that nowhere is off limits. What has caused this trend and what can we do about it?

I believe the answers are complex and varied, ranging from gun accessibility to mental health to diet. Based on my personal experience and information that I have looked up, several things need to happen.

1. Gun accessibility.
While growing up in a small gun toting community, I saw a decent number of tragedies that could have been avoided without guns. The first one that comes to mind are two suicides from the same high school class of thirty people in a single year. Both spur of the moment irrational behavior, both with a gun at these kid’s fingertips. Another was a man in my apartment complex whose friend killed him and went on a cross state attack. One night I saw dozens of officers creeping through the high school lawn with assault rifles up and ready. After getting yelled at to get down by them, I found out a man was doing sniper attacks. By the end, he killed three, injured others and took his own life. My younger sister’s then-boyfriend is currently serving time after a blackout argument where he shot and killed a family friend. A college professor from my campus staked out and killed one of his students, then himself. The sad thing is, I know I am forgetting a few. (Correction- I did forget about a kid in my town of 500 who was playing with his dad’s gun and accidentally killed himself…in front of his friend)

One thing all these stories have in common is the ease in which the person got a gun. It is part of the culture, and I don’t know how people don’t see the correlation with accessibility. Wait! I hear a far cry from the right yelling that a motivated person will find another way! Guns don’t kill people, people kill people! Well, let’s consider. A blast from a gun at close range (depending on where it hits) has a high probability of fatality. But the thing with a gun is that it can be fatal from a distance. Knives require physical contact and less likelihood of mortality. December 14, 2012 saw two attacks on school children- one with guns, one with a knife. Which one made news for devastating fatalities? Yep. Also, the amount of time it takes to go through a room to stab people is far greater than popping off a shot every second.

I hear that guns are necessary to protect against attacks! Actually, a victim is about four times more likely to die when a gun is introduced into the situation. Also, guns in the house are much more likely to be used on another member of the house for either intimidation or injury (and that member is usually going to be female). Remember that sniper attack I just mentioned? A college student rushed over with his gun to take action and help. He was shot several times, including the neck. He thankfully lived to tell the tale, but it goes to show that even good intentions are dangerous.

But Switzerland has tons of guns and they don’t have the problems we do! This is correct, but if you also look at Switzerland, they spend a great deal of money on mental health care every year. This probably makes a huge difference in preventing mass assaults by catching the issue beforehand. One could also argue for the steps that Australia has made after a massacre in April 1996. The government swiftly acted after that attack with visible results in the years that followed.

I think it’s important to note that gun regulation does not mean no guns. I know that guns serve a purpose and can be used responsibly. I also know that not everyone should have a gun. Background checks should always be done, as well as a mental health evaluation. There should not be high capacity magazines. I’ve also read about safety features that gun manufacturers are opting not to use, such as owner recognition (the gun will not fire without fingerprint or grip identification). I know guns are part of our culture, so why not take steps to limit the damage they can do? Can’t people recognize the beneficial safety changes that have taken place after tragedies? Airports now have people take off their shoes and go through a body scanner because of failed bomb attempts. Things changed in the face of these events, so I ask: how many more gun attacks before we see the need for change?

2. Mental health
Obviously there are some mental health issues with shooters in these recent high profile killings. I think everyone agrees that these people should not have had guns. Mental health problems in our country carry a lot of stigma, making it difficult to diagnose and treat those in need. Getting access to treatment is also difficult, and many don’t even receive treatment until they are deemed dangerous and eventually jailed. We have basically criminalized it. Parents are left to feel alone while caring for a child with problems, the outside wondering what they did wrong.

My friends in mental health fields are better suited to discussing what positive actions could tangibly make a difference, but I think our country has to begin looking at the importance of mental health services. Hopefully good care will be available to those who need it. Hopefully families will not be afraid to send their child to a therapist or psychiatrist if they see disturbing behavior. It isn’t one person’s problem to face alone. If these events have done anything, they should open our eyes to the impacts of letting others fall through the cracks.

3. Entertainment
This will be a topic that has two segments- the desensitizing nature of violent movies and video games plus the role models we revere.

I’ve heard it said that violent video games and movies are no excuse for mass killings, and I actually agree with that. I don’t believe that Marilyn Manson’s music is an excuse to kill others. However, I think there is something about losing innocence to bloody scenes that have grown increasingly realistic. The idea of carnage and violence are not unimaginable because it’s right there on the TV every night. It may still seem wrong, but it isn’t as scary. Shooting another person isn’t so far fetched when one sees themselves doing it in war reenactment games. This is not a full coverage excuse for the terrible actions we have seen, but how can it be helping? Consider this- these are the images we are putting out as ENTERTAINMENT.

I also wonder how role models play a role. Who says that their teacher is their role model, or the fireman, or Ghandi or Mandela? How many teenagers want to be like Taylor Swift, Justin Beiber or (god forbid) Lindsay Lohan? The people who get the most time on the TV and Internet are the ones doing ridiculous things. Even taking mass shootings into account, whose name do you remember? The victims are forgotten while the killer lives in infamy. Take the Australia shooting again. While the exact motive has not been established, his lawyer discussed the impact of the Dunblane massacre the month before.

Parents are vital for not only being a good role model for their children, but also pointing out other good role models. Focus on the wonderful achievements of world leaders and past figures rather than discussing who is getting divorced, who is wearing something ugly, who had another crotch shot photo, etc.

4. Diet
I am not vegan or even vegetarian. I don’t even eat the healthiest things. However, I can’t rule out that the ingredients in our food are causing an impact on our brains (you are what you eat, right?). How are pesticides and chemicals reacting in our bodies? How about sugary processed foods? It is clear that obesity has been skyrocketing, which has a huge set of issues on its own. Girls are reaching puberty at younger ages. What else is our food doing to us?

Our society has many issues. It is terrible when tragedy makes us confront these problems directly, but hopefully in the face of sadness we can create a better future. Tons of people resent change, but how many more kids need to die needlessly before it happens? I know this conversation is far from over, so expect more to come.